2. My mentally ill brother is scheduled for trial

Chapter 2 in a series on mental illness.

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[Note: this article includes excerpts of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness.]

Today, in court, Tony was deemed competent to stand trial. So, even though he was delusional when he took a woman’s purse, threw it to the ground and walked off without out taking anything or harming anyone, next Tuesday, August 23, 2009, he goes on trial on a charge of felony robbery. He faces a sentence of up to 17 years in prison, since he has one strike on his record for a prior conviction of stalking. In short, although what my brother and society needs, is for him to be treated for a mental illness, he may end up serving time in prison.

Tony, who was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic twenty three years ago, refused to agree that he was mentally ill for the first twenty of those years.  In recent years he was able to gain explicit “insight” (as it is called) into his condition.  Yet, when he goes off his medications, he seems to lapse into a state of delusion and resents me for using those words to describe his condition.  And I can’t say that I blame him.  Although he has a condition that makes him different than “normal” people, it also causes him to be more bluntly honest about the world and what he sees as wrong in the world than most normal people ever dare to be.  I have learned much from his blunt honesty in those periods.

When Tony is on his meds, he seems as normal as you and I. Many of his friends think he is one of the most brilliant people they know. They find his presence enjoyable. He is insightful, writes and speaks articulately and insightfully, and is fun to be around. He is a good video editor and has produced very creative works. He has worked in Hollywood as a machinist for our brother Eric, who does special effects. Yet Eric will no longer hire him in recent years since Tony becomes paranoid and does not fit in at the work place.

Because Tony goes off his meds, his condition prevents him from fitting into society or maintaining a steady job in spite of his ardent desire to be normal and have a job and be part of what normal people do.  It is a contradiction.  His condition is not “normal” and his behavior becomes obnoxious. He comes to believe he is well and goes off his medications. Yet his desire to be normal is prevented by his going off his medication.

He has never hurt anyone physically but he is six foot four, weighs 230 pounds, and goes into raging tirades so can be very intimidating. He has targeted many individuals, including some very well known personalities (including Blase Bonpane, Michael Miner, Susan Block, and Steven Spielberg’s mother) and numerous other people, including me, our 91 year old mother’s care givers, and some of his friends.  He has delusions about people that he expresses in writing or in phone calls to the point that people take out restraining order against him.  In one case, he made so many harassing phone calls to a certain personality’s office that they filed charges of stalking which resulted in a felony conviction.  Tony ended up spending nearly two years at Atascadero State Mental Hospital.  That hospital stay helped him.  Upon leaving the hospital he was very stable, very rational, and appeared to many as if he had been “cured”.  Were you to meet him you would think he was a totally normal highly intelligent person and quite likable.  His release was some three years ago.

Unfortunately, his “cure” was short lived.  Twice since his release he went off his meds and ended up being kicked out of his living place.  First time from a one bedroom apartment where he was living on his own in Korea town, then the next time from an apartment where his roommates ended up having to lock him out to retain their own sanity.  It was after this most recent eviction that he became homeless and committed the alleged crime for which he will go on trial next week.

I have been attending the pre-trial hearings.  In a way, I, his brother, have become his case manager.  I will report here on the trial when it happens next week.  In the meantime, I had wanted to provide a letter to the judge in the trial, Teri Schwartz. However, I learned from the public defender, Jose Colon, that the judge will not accept information from sources outside the context of the trail, i.e. not from either the public defender or the district attorney.  The purpose of my letter is to present the point of view that Tony had a mental illness and that the charge of robbery and a subsequent incarceration is not a good substitute for the medical treatment he requires.  Since it was not possible to provide the letter to the court at this time, I am choosing to publish it here in a public forum.  I will let it speak for itself.

Re: Case GA07600501

Honorable Teri Schwartz
Pasadena Superior Court
Pasadena, CA

Dear Judge Schwartz:

I am the brother of George Anthony Allard, Tony to his friends, who has a mental illness yet is in your court on a charge of felony robbery for an act that any normal person would not describe as robbery. While delusional, he snatched an old ladies purse, threw it to the ground and walked away. For this act he is facing up to 17 years in prison.

Tony was first diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia in 1985. Since you are the presiding judge in his case on a felony charge of robbery, I write to bring to your attention facts and history that should bear upon the case and for which I am in the best position to provide relevant details, since I have been acting as his de facto case manager in recent years.

Whatever the letter of the law, the interest of justice is surely served by bringing facts and positions to light that would otherwise remain unknown. I have been witness to legal proceedings involving my brother for many years. So, although I am aware, as a lay person, that a system of prosecution and defense exists to convey information to the court, I feel compelled to provide information and a point of view often not adequately considered in trials where mental illness is, or should be, a predominant factor.


My brother Tony faces a second strike felony conviction of robbery. Yet at the time of the alleged crime he was delusional. Tony had gone off his meds four months prior to the alleged robbery, resulting in a number of 5150s and a 5250 stay at Harbor UCLA Psychiatric ward. I had been discussing Tony’s condition in detail with social worker Matt Wells and Dr. Walker of Harbor UCLA and exploring the idea of placing Tony under a state controlled conservatorship. The preliminary steps toward a conservatorship were starting to fall into place. Then, on February 13, 2009, Judge Melissa Widdifield of the Los Angeles Mental Health Court found “for” Tony and denied a request by the psychiatrists and social workers at Harbor UCLA to keep him for further observation. Tony was, ipso facto, released, i.e. put back out on the street. He was quite delusional at the time. He had told me a few days before that he was, indeed, an agent working for the FBI. Upon his release to “freedom”, he immediately proceeded to Hollywood Park race track where he gambled away whatever money he had and remained homeless. The alleged robbery in Glendale occurred nine days later, on February 22.

There are times when Tony is taking his meds and is highly functional. There are times where he is just recently back on them or a new medicine and is able to “present well”, which was the case before the Mental Health Court and very possibly before your court. And there are times where he is off his meds and is completely delusional. When in a functional state, he has written about his own condition and history.

The following excerpts from my brother Tony Allard’s writings are illuminating…

I thought that I was world famous, and that everybody in the hospital, doctors, nurses, and patients alike, were all talking about me all of the time. This was and is not unusual for me, at that time, and even to some extent to this day, for when I am or have been at work or at play on the outside, I have and have had similar delusions. Everybody, wherever I go, is or was preoccupied with me. Glorious me. Oh the delusion. It is hard for me to even think about those days anymore, when the delusions where as concrete as a freeway overpass, but now that I have been stabilized on meds for several years it is not the same. However, the delusions are never that far from my consciousness. Even to this day, whether I’m on the bus or in a restaurant, in a crowded theater or in traffic driving on the street, I often have delusions that people nearby are talking about me in a tangential way. I don’t think I’ll ever really get beyond it, it’s so deeply ingrained in my consciousness, but I can hope, and I can and must and do just ignore those thoughts. What else can I do, after all, because I cannot just stop my thinking processes. I have a constant inner dialogue, like everybody else, only mine is skewed with some elements of fantasy that make it scary sometimes to just be me. Because intermingled with those delusions that people are talking about me, I sometimes also think that they are saying that I will be killed by so and so, an old friend of mine or someone else, or that I will end up committing suicide. These thoughts are not my own and they are not somebody else’s. I don’t know where they are from, but I do know that the medication that I am on now, Risperdal, make such thoughts much less prevalent in my thinking. But they are always there. I guess it’s probably like someone who has been raped or has been through a war zone and has Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. I don’t know, but I don’t like it, and I only know that I have to live with it for now, and hope that some day these thoughts just fade away and stop coming back. But after more than 20 years, I doubt that they will ever go away completely. It is probably a lot like an insomniac who, despite his best efforts and the best medications, every night must face the same dilemma of going to sleep. Only in my case, it’s not sleep that won’t come, it’s just simple peace of mind.

o o o

I would have constant delusions while working or off of work about people “talking about me” and I would just have to ignore my ears. Sometimes, I just resorted to wearing foam ear plugs so that I couldn’t hear conversations near me second hand and suffer the fears that resulted from my psychotic misinterpretations of what people were saying. .I don’t know how common it is for bi-polar patients to have such delusions, but I had them. I was diagnosed at that point as Psychotic Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). That had come after years of a Paranoid Schizophrenic diagnosis, but I believe that my Psychiatrist, Thomas Carter, thought that I was too high functioning to be considered truly Schizophrenic. Whatever it was, it wasn’t fun. My social life was still somewhat active, and I would, as I’ve said, just ignore my aberrant thoughts and pretend that everything was fine. Many people, from that time of my life, have told me that I must be a very good liar, because it was never apparent to those friends and acquaintances that I was having constant delusions during that period. Of course you learn to lie when you are mentally ill, because if you don’t, you cannot function in a “normal” life.

o o o

At some point around New Years Day, 2004, I decided again to stop taking my meds. As I rationalized it, I was not drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, or taking any other drugs, and besides, as is common among mentally ill people, I was feeling fine because I was on Risperdal and consequently deluded myself into believing that I was no longer mentally ill. (If I were to say the one biggest problems, for me at least, and I know for many other if not most of the mentally ill, is coming to terms with the fact that your illness is permanent and requires lifelong treatment with psychotropic medication.) Consequently, my mental condition started to deteriorate rapidly. I started to suspect people were “talking about me” again and had several persistent delusions relating to some old acquaintances and my belief that I was a Special Agent for the FBI. My brother Dennis, who had seen me deteriorate in a similar manner several times in the past, noticed my deterioration, but I lied to him and assured him that I was still taking my meds.

 

The above excerpts indicate not only an ability on the part of my brother to be rational and write coherently, in sharp contrast to much of his writings and poems in a large opus of documents I have compiled (and can make available to the court), they also constitute an admission by Tony that he lies to hide his illness or being off his meds.

Tony may be “competent to stand trial”. But beware. The mental illness he is afflicted with is, to use an analogy, like a computer virus that takes over a computer. Except in this case, it is a form of consciousness that takes over a host human being’s psychology and thought processes. The behavior of the host victim may seem on the surface to be normal and rational at some standard of competency. Yet, since the virus is not my brother, it follows the standard cannot apply. There is no jurisprudence of which I am aware that applies. If that is true, that leaves the court in a bit of a bind. It is like a body snatcher in the movie “Invasion of the body snatchers”. There is no sense that the pronouns “he” or “him” or even the name “Tony” refers to my brother at the those times that the body snatcher has control. Worse, the virus acts in a way to defend its existence, duping its host victim into experiencing things that are not happening (delusions) and causing the host to claim to be sane, duping his friends, relatives, his lawyers, and the entire judicial system including you yourself, your honor, with all due respect.

I’ve seen this happen before and it is happening again. It is the pitiable state of affairs whereby the police, judicial, and prison system in California are acting in lieu of medical treatment for a medical condition and engaging in a charade following a script of rules that do not or should not apply.

Recommendation:

What can be done to better the situation in a just manner? In my opinion, a just solution would involve imposing (not “offering”) a supervised treatment program and living situation on my brother, a kind of probation with parole, that provides him with the ability to seek employment while further imposing the condition that if he violates various conditions of his parole, such as going off his meds or committing unlawful acts, he would be subject to incarceration at a secure institution such as Atascadero State Hospital. I believe that my brother would be responsive to such a solution even if he is not capable of agreeing to such treatment voluntarily. The result would be just, practical, cost effective, and in some cases ultimately rehabilitating. I urge the court to consider this course of action if at all legally possible.

Dennis G. Allard
Santa Monica, CA
August 14, 2009

[ story continued: http://oceanpark.com/blog/2009/08/not-guilty-so-now-what/ ]

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Why Twitter is popular and what I dislike about that

This article talks about Twitter but the points made here apply equally to Facebook.

There are two reasons Twitter took off like it did.  First, it fills a desire in the culture for ubiquitous notifications from everyone to everyone.  Second, it did so in a way that is immediately accessible and easy to use for anyone with a web browser.  I.e., real time simple peer-to-peer notifications that are both created and accessed via existing ubiquitous technology.

Twitter lets people create notifications and “follow” other peoples notifications.  And, it does that via the Web by letting people both write and view notifications in a browser.  It can’t get any simpler than that, can it?

Hence, a simple idea (real time notifications) combined with providing that via existing tools that everyone already has on their computers and cell phones.

Why do I say I don’t like that?  It’s not that I don’t like the idea.  And I commend the authors of Twitter for making the starkly simple realization that all this was both desired and so easily provided.  They will become very rich because of that realization combined with what I don’t like about the situation.  That is, the mechanism for providing Tweets is proprietary.

Although the mechanisms for writing and following Tweets are standards-based (standard message protocol, HTTP, and HTML basically), the creators of Twitter co-opted the concept of notifications by providing the mechanism via a branded web server.  And therein lies the rub.  Although web clients are free and ubiquitous, web servers are not.  Web servers and domain names are owned.  By co-opting the concept of ubiquitous notifications via a proprietary web server, Twitter has enriched a few people who happened to think of the idea first.  It’s not always this way.  For example, the Web itself, which arguably underpins all things Twitter-like, was developed by socialized programs (called science, academic research, and just plain good engineering) done by governments and government-funded research.  (One of many arguments I make that government is not bad as the Libertarian Fundamentalists like to believe).


Facebook is another example.  It is hard to make a Web site so Facebook made it easy.  A subject to another day, but you get the point.

Are there alternatives to these proprietary mechanisms?  Yes.  For example, RSS feeds provide a mechanism very similar to Tweets.  In fact, RSS feeds provide a richer mechanism.  And, RSS feeds are also built in or can be built in to browsers,although they are not anywhere near as accessible as Tweets.  Why?  The problem is that there is no central place to find all RSS feeds and there is no ubiquitous easily accessible place to write and distribute RSS feeds.  Generalizing slightly, we live in a culture where identity and mind share is still proprietary.  There is no standard freely available centralized place to create content for the Web.  Now, Google and others provide a central place to search for identity, but not to create it.  And Google itself is proprietary.  Think about it.  All Web servers are owned.  There is a reason for that.  Unlike the client (the web browser), the server (the web server) has to have lots and lots of memory.  Real memory.  And processors, lots of processors.  And that all costs money.

There are solutions.  We could distribute the notion of identity across a pool of volunteers who would provide resources for a large distributed server.  It would be public, non-proprietary, secure, and ultimately scalable to any size needed.  Alternatively, one or more governments could provide the central server.  In one of these ways, we would be able to provide a server side of the equation in a way that scales, does not require advertising or other revenue, is a shared resource, and achieves everything that the Twitters and Facebooks of the world achieve.  It would be a large non-proprietary sand box where equal numbers of ideas are tried out and what wins is, just as now, based on popularity and viral acquisition of mind share.

I am sure my idea is not new and has bugs.  But I wanted to get this off my mind.

1. My brother has a mental illness so is in jail

Chapter 1 in a series on mental illness.

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This is my first column.  I will dedicate this column to my brother Tony who was first diagnosed with a mental illness in 1986.  The saga of his life and how it has affected those close to him is a story I will tell.  I will tell it here in future columns.  Tony himself has written about his life and journey that has been so affected by an illness that most of the time he does not acknowledge as real.  His writing is creative, illuminating, and entertaining on many topics, including the illness.  With his permission I will share some of his writing here in future columns.

[Note: Elsewhere see excerpts of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness .]

Much of the time, the illness does what can best be described as taking over the consciousness of my brother and running his life.  My brother deserves respect for the wonderful, caring creative human being he is while the illness deserves no respect.  The illness only deserves treatment and the only treatment that has allowed my brother to be himself and run his own life has been in the form of certain medicines.  Without those medicines, the illness takes over his life.  Anyone who objects to those medicines is not defending my brother’s right to a life but, rather, is defending the illness’ right to conquer and take over my brother’s life.  The illness is not my brother and my brother is not the illness.  The illness is like a computer virus that makes the computer screw up big time except this virus-like illness is a consciousness of its own, takes over people, and runs and ruins their lives.  It must be treated, with medicine when necessary.

My brother is allergic to the soap in the LA County “Twin Towers” jail so he buys some special soap from the jail store.  He had no money and already owed a friend in jail ten dollars so he needed the money by Thursday, the day he is allowed to buy things from the store.  Yesterday was already Wednesday.  Tony called me collect from jail, the only way he has to call me, reminding me that he needed the money.  I had been procrastinating a bit about getting out there to visit him, busy with my life and work out here in freedomsville.  But I’m one of my mentally ill brother’s few contacts in the outside world who is willing to help him out.  I decided to drive out to Twin Towers and deposit $200 into his account.

It is his money, since for over a year now he has been receving disablity income.  That was the one good stroke of luck he had in the past many years, getting qualified for that income.  Because beyond that little stroke of luck, having a condition most recently diagnosed as bipolar with schizoaffective disorder results in a long continuous string of events that might best be characterized as unlucky in a big way.

I manage Tony’s money for him when he is in jail.  When he is out of jail and sane, he manages it pretty well, being able to keep an apartment and maintain friendships.  Then, when he goes off his medication and has delusions and thinks he is an FBI Agent and that everyone is talking about him, he most often gambles away all of his money at Hollywood Park or one of the poker casinos in Gardena that still let him in.

One time, when sane, he took a class to become a poker dealer.  He did well in the class but then on the first live test day, he got nervous and froze up.  I won’t recount the bitter irony I felt when I heard he was striving to make a career working in those casinos where so much of his life has passed in what I view as a lonely existence.  He does not see it that way but then again he does not see most things the same you or I see them.

I stopped at an ATM up on Ocean Park Blvd near where I live to extract the two hundred dollars.  I put the money in my right front pocket instead of in my wallet.  I was going to a jail and I just assume that the chances of being mugged are  higher in that part of town so I keep my wallet and money in separate pockets for expeditions like this.  I had checked Google maps and saw a traffic jam on the 110 Harbor Freeway so I took the longer way around, taking the 10 to the 5 then off at Main Street and over to Vignes to get to the jail.

There was a parking place on the street right across from the jail so I snapped that up to avoid the seven dollar parking fee in the bunker-like parking structure and walked over to the IRC, the Inmate Reception Center.  I walked up what has become a familiar concrete stairway to the second floor cashier.  I filled out the slip with Tony’s official name and booking number and, after a short wait in line, handed over the two hundred dollars that would soon be in Tony’s account so he could buy his soap and whatever other small luxuries might help his stay in jail.

I didn’t take time to visit him since it was not a visiting day and, even if it were, visiting someone in jail is a very time consuming process.  That will be for another day and a future column.  I will also report on his progress in the court system on his recent felony charge of robbery, which occurred when he grabbed a woman’s purse, threw out the contents on the ground, and then walked away.  He faces a second felony conviction for that act and up to ten years in prison.  For not taking his meds.

[ story continued: http://oceanpark.com/blog/2009/08/my-mentally-ill-brother-is-scheduled-for-trial/ ]

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My zeroeth column.

I choose not to use the word ‘blog’.  I recognize it but choose not to use it in my spoken vocabulary.  It has that much kinship with the term ‘Homeland Security’ but for different reasons. The word ‘Homeland Security’ is one I loathe.  I do not loathe ‘blog’.  I just find it bit too cute and ultimately temporary. Hence, I refer to the content you will see here as a “column” to borrow the venerable term from the newspaper world and which is every bit if not more applicable to a computer screen as to old fashion newsprint.

This is not yet my first column, since I just installed the WordPress blogging engine and this is my trying that out.  My first column will appear here.  Just not today.